New Canadian Media

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga 

Pakistani women enjoy more autonomy in the home and greater overall life satisfaction in Canada compared to what they experienced back home, a new study suggests.

According to "Perceptions of Autonomy and Life Satisfaction in Pakistani Married Immigrant Women in Toronto, Canada" this greater sense of satisfaction is directly associated with these women’s sense of autonomy.

Authors Michaela Hynie, associate professor at York University, and Tahira Jibeen, assistant professor at COMSATS Institute of Technology in Lahore, explain that this freedom has many facets. For many, this includes the economic opportunities that Western societies offer women — opportunities women who come from patriarchal cultures might not have had before.

Fauzia, a resident of Mississauga who immigrated to Canada from Pakistan 14 years ago with her husband and three children, has been driving a school bus since September, 2015. She agrees with the results of the report.

“Things have changed in Pakistan, but I don’t think that still any woman would drive a school bus [as] conveniently and willfully as here,” she says.

Pursuing passions in Canada

Fauzia shares that she found her passion for driving at a very young age, before she got married. For her, driving a public transport vehicle is a decision she could only have made here in Canada.

“If I was in Pakistan, I wouldn’t think of doing something like this,” she adds. “It requires lots of guts and being too daring to break through the cultural norms.”

Hynie and Jibeen’s report highlights the importance that in-laws play in maintaining traditional family roles in Pakistani culture. It states “the goal of the study was to explore the relationship between family structures and autonomy among married immigrant Pakistani women.”

It also investigated “the role that these variables play in their evaluation of their life satisfaction prior to migration, in Pakistan, and post-migration in Canada."

“If I was in Pakistan, I wouldn’t think of doing something like this."

The report found that when women lived with their in-laws, even in Canada, their autonomy was more restricted than when they lived only with their husband and children.

While Fauzia has been able to pursue this opportunity now that she's away from her in-laws, she says her own family back home still makes fun of her occupation. 

“Even in Pakistan, if I tell family and friends, they look down on such a job and laugh at it. However, I tell them proudly that I am Canadian and we are proud to do whatever we feel like,” she says.

Job opportunities and education levels

Naheed, who came to Canada from the Middle East six years ago and also drives a bus, has had an experience similar to Fauzia’s. However, she says that when her in-laws resist her occupation, she is often able to convince them that this is a good opportunity.

“Education and logic plays vital part. Now its up to you [to] either convince others or get convinced, so I usually convince others with logic,” she says.

Immigrant women are more likely to have completed university than women born in Canada.

Over the last decade, the emphasis on educational and occupational qualifications when selecting immigrants has meant that the lead applicant’s spouse (often the female) has to fulfill a certain educational criteria as well as pass a language proficiency test to be accepted.

In part as a result of this focus, immigrant women are more likely to have completed university than women born in Canada.

Even though her current job might not be considered white collar, Naheed says, “I don’t believe in class of work. It’s better to work hard and earn than to beg.”

The role of Islam

While speaking about the role of religion, both drivers, who are Muslim and wear headscarves, believe that Islam does not restrict the ability of women to work.

“Islam doesn’t restrict women to work, but what it asks is to limit yourself within Shariah,” says Fauzia.  

“Even when I used to drive a simple car in Pakistan a long time ago, it was considered odd and people used to take it as a bad thing. So it’s our cultural problem, not religious,” she states.

Support from husbands

While they’ve faced opposition from family, both Naheed and Fauzia say their husbands have supported their desire to pursue their passions and find jobs.

Because the women are employed, they can assist in financially supporting the family. Still, balancing their time is very important since they must take care of the children.

“[My] husband and kids are supportive as their only concern is my availability. My husband always asked me to look for a job that [didn’t mean you] ignore your kids and household responsibilities, as our kids are our priority,” says Fauzia.

Their husbands have supported their desire to pursue their passions and find jobs.

Hynie and Jibeen’s report concludes that women may be happier in more egalitarian marriages, regardless of where they reside.

However, it cautions against imposing Western values and ideologies on immigrant communities. 

It suggests instead that supporting women to negotiate their own forms of autonomy in their interpersonal lives might increase women’s life satisfaction more than importing Western structures.

Naheed is happy that in her current job she still has ample opportunity to relax and spend time with her 12-year-old daughter. She also relishes the authority it gives her.

 “I feel like a king, when traffic stops all around my bus when I put up the signals,” she concludes.

This is the second part in a three-part series on changing family dynamics and what it means for women immigrants in Canada. The first part, "In Canada, South Asian Women Find Social Freedom", discusses how women are socially empowered once they reach Canada. If you are an immigrant who has experienced significant social change in your life after arriving in Canada, please contact 360@newcanadianmedia.ca.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

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 London: The Church of England Monday consecrated its first female bishop, the Reverend Libby Lane, at a historic ceremony in the Cathedral of York, in northern England. Lane, who was appointed to the post December 17, 2014, will become the eighth bishop of Stockport, a city in northern England, in an event witnessed by a thousand […]

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by Michael Bach (@diversity_dude) in Toronto

Recently, our friends at the CBC uncovered a story that has been getting a lot of press. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) allowed a small group of Hindu priests coming through Toronto's Pearson airport to avoid screening by female border guards to comply with their religious beliefs.

As expected, outrage ensued. One female officer, on the promise of anonymity, spoke with the CBC and blew the story wide open. The officer wanted to remain anonymous because she feared the repercussions of speaking out.

First and foremost, I want to applaud the officer for being brave enough to speak out. That’s clearly important. We can’t sit idly by while issues and injustices like this occur.  We must have the courage of our convictions to speak out, even if we have to do it from the shadows. That she and her colleagues feared for their jobs is another matter entirely and the CBSA should be more concerned with that. To the officer, I salute you.

There is no recognized religion in the world that discriminates based on ethnicity or race.

That, however, is where the clarity on this matter ends. Many people may find it surprising that this isn’t clear cut. But it really isn’t. 

Let me be clear from the outset that I have never agreed with, nor will I ever agree with the attitude that women are somehow ‘less than’ and should not be treated as anything other than equal. That’s a tenet of Canadian society that I, for one, am very proud of. 

The five male Hindu Priests (called sādhus) in question, however, do not share my belief.  Calling these men ‘priests’ is a bit simplistic.  The sādhu have committed their lives to achieving mokṣa (liberation), the fourth and final aśrama (stage of life), through meditation and contemplation of brahman.  One of the fundamentals of the sādhus is that they are not permitted to have direct interaction with women. 

Blurred Lines

This is where the line becomes a bit blurry: where do we draw the line on accommodation?  Whose rights are more important? Here’s a few things to consider:

  • The five sādhus were visitors to Canada.  They weren’t moving to Canada … they were just passing through.  We don’t expect everyone who enters the country to share our belief systems – be it related to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other matter.  Not all Canadians share the same belief system let alone visitors to our country.  We expect visitors and residents to abide by our laws, not our beliefs.  Respecting women is, sadly, not a law.
  • Canada is the only country in the world to have a governmental Office of Religious Freedom.  While the office is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and therefore seems to have a far more external focus than an internal one, it does make a statement that we are a country that respects religious beliefs.  Even when we don’t agree with them.
  • We continually accommodate people visiting Canada in many different ways.  There is a CBSA desk at every Canadian border crossing that is lower, in order to accommodate people in wheelchairs; we accommodate people who don’t speak English or French by allowing them to speak through an interpreter – even if the interpreter is not a CBSA employee; and so on and so on.  It happens every day, at ever border access point in this country.

Slippery slope

The “what’s next” argument has been made.  Quoting the officer who came forward: "People are saying 'What is next? If white supremacists come through, do we move all non-white officers from the line?'"

That argument doesn’t hold water.  This is not a conversation about personal beliefs.  What this conversation is about is accommodating someone for strongly held religious beliefs, not personal ones. There is no recognized religion in the world that discriminates based on ethnicity or race. There are people that discriminate against other people based on ethnicity and race (among a long list of other things), and may do it in the name of religion. However, if you check the fine print, that’s a personal belief, not a belief held by their religion.  White supremacists aren’t religious figures – they’re ... [unprintable].

The real problem here is simple: CBSA screwed up. CBSA management, in attempting to deal with the situation, made a mess of it.  Here’s how they could have dealt with the situation and everyone would have been happy (or at least as happy as anyone dealing with this situation could be):

  • When the request for accommodation came in, management should have pulled together all the officers and let them know they had a group of passengers coming through that required an accommodation due to religious beliefs, and what that translated to in terms of impact to standard process.
  • When the passengers arrived, they should have been greeted by a male officer who could have taken them to one male officer who could have screened them all.  The female officers could have been left on the floor to do their jobs and treated with the respect they deserve, instead of hidden away and made to feel worthless.  The sādhus don’t require isolation from women, just that they don’t have direct interaction with them. If they required isolation from women, they could never leave the house. Or temple.
  • Proactively, CBSA management should have an open and honest dialogue with officers, to make sure everyone understands the concepts of religious accommodation and what the CBSA’s process is for addressing such accommodations.  There should be a standard process for accommodation that everyone understands.

CBSA screwed up. CBSA management, in attempting to deal with the situation, made a mess of it.

If Canada is going to open its doors to the world, we have to accept and expect that some visitors are going to have different belief systems.  The challenge is how we deal with them – in a manner that shows value and respect for everyone.

Michael is the founder and CEO of the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion (CIDI). He is nationally and internationally recognized as a thought leader and subject matter expert in the fields of diversity, inclusion and employment equity. Prior to taking on this role, he was the national director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for KPMG in Canada.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
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Namastey Canada

by Amar Nijhawan

Women of the Indian diaspora are often portrayed as hyper-sexual and constantly rebelling against their own heritage in efforts to assimilate to Western norms.
Often, they are “rescued” by a male protagonist who inspires them to restore their Indian values. The celebrated and socially acceptable nature of Bollywood movies amongst diaspora populations makes internal criticism rare.

Increasingly, Bollywood films tend to reinforce aspects of cultural nationalism among diaspora populations, using the female protagonist to propagate not-too-subtly a highly patriarchal order. With its light-hearted plots, vivid dance sequences and aesthetically appealing actors espousing feelings of cultural nostalgia and longing, Bollywood slips these influences into our family rooms unnoticed.

Several recent movies fit this genre, but the most vivid example that comes to mind is the 2007 film, Namastey London. The movie revolves around Jasmeet “Jazz” Malhotra, a young girl born in London who, through drinking, partying, and socializing with men, wholeheartedly rejects her Indian heritage. Her worried father arranges a trip to India to help her re-discover her roots, and in the process, covertly arranges her marriage to boy named Arjun, who lives in a village in Punjab.

Arjun attempts to extend his boundless patriotism to Jasmeet, and believes that through their marriage, he can help her appreciate her “native” culture. Jasmeet flees to England to marry her British fiancé, and Arjun follows her, attempting to win her back by pointing out the various moral degradations of Western culture and its influences.

‘I am not Indian’

Jasmeet’s character is introduced during an arranged date with a potential Indian suitor, Bobby. She enters the scene wearing a traditional Indian salwar kameez, and immediately orders multiple shots of vodka. While imbibing, she discloses to Bobby her sexual relations with various men and her parent’s desire for her to marry a “good Indian boy.” She abruptly leaves a stunned Bobby and gets into a taxi, where she discards her Indian garb and changes into a revealing black dress. When the taxi driver asks if she is from India, she quickly answers, “God no, I’m from Harris Street.” In a later scene, while eating lunch by the London Bridge, her Indian female friend questions her vehement opposition to marrying an Indian. Jasmeet replies:

“I am not Indian, I am British. I was not born in India, I never visit India, and since the age of three, I have held my hand over my heart and sung “God Save the Queen.” My attitude and thinking is completely British. How can I be Indian?”

As Jasmeet begins to describe her ideal mate, a red sports car pulls up, driven by a handsome, blonde British man who is revealed to be their boss. As Jasmeet runs to his car, her friend warns her about his notorious promiscuity and fondness for affairs with work colleagues. Jasmeet ignores her friend’s advice, and gets into his car in an act of defiance.

Jasmeet’s career-oriented mentality is characterized as overbearing and selfish, and her name change is seen as an overt assimilation into English culture. Her exaggerated dismissal of her roots is perceived as shaming her parents, who have no other option but to arrange her marriage with Arjun. Her cultural introspection and eventual repatriation to her own heritage is evoked through her romance with Arjun.

Arjun’s character acts as a “saviour” who redeems Jasmeet, rationalizing her Western mores to ignorance perpetuated by her corrupt British surroundings. The movie ends with Jasmeet and Arjun happily wed, riding through fields on his motorcycle in Punjab.

Cultural Nationalism

While Bollywood movies are received as light-hearted entertainment as opposed to in-depth social commentaries, their unspoken messages have an understated impact on the formation of women’s identities in diaspora communities. The unquestioning acceptance of these forms of popular media, coupled with the fact that they often serve as the singular cultural connection to an “imagined homeland,” reinforces its legitimacy as a source of cultural nationalism.   

 Nobody quite captures the diaspora experience as Salman Rushdie, bestselling author of Midnight's Children and The Satantic Verses: “Sometimes we feel that we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”

I generally find myself in between those two metaphoric stools, perennially balancing cultures as a second-generation Canadian Indian. I was reminded of Jasmeet’s travails during a recent summer in Delhi, which I saw as an escape from having to walk a fine line between cultures. After about a month alone in Delhi, I found myself automatically identifying with my Canadian-ness at every opportunity. And so, the classic paradox of the confused Canadian born Indian persists. According to Canadians, I am Indian. According to Indo-Canadians, I am not Indian enough. And according to Indians, I am Canadian. 

I empathize with Rushdie, who describes his position as an Indian author living in the diaspora thus: “Our identity is at once plural and partial ... if literature is in part the business of finding new angles at which to enter reality, then again our distance, our long geographical perspective, may provide us with such angles.”  -- New Canadian Media

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in India

 VANCOUVER – One-third of the MLAs British Columbians elected during Tuesday’s vote were women, marking a historic level of female representation for the province.
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Published in Politics
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